Farm Your Yard: Starting Your Garden Indoors

Feb 25, 2016

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get a jump on the growing season and to observe plants from seed to harvest.
Credit CCUA / Facebook

This time of year is especially exciting to everyone - gardeners and non-gardeners alike. That’s because we’ve more or less been cooped up inside all winter, and are as ready as ever to bust out of the back door and do something, anything outside.

It is nice days like today: sunny, warm late winter days that I get the most calls from folks asking me to come out and help them dust off their own backyard gardens, in preparation for what is sure to be a wonderful gardening season. Columbians are brimming over with excitement at the thought of seeding carrots, getting dirty, and I know that there are hundreds, or even thousands of folks who eagerly await the opening day of the Columbia Farmer’s Market outdoor season (which, by the way is right around the corner of March 19). Spring is almost here. And we are ready!

Something that is fun to do right now, when it is still just a bit too cool to be planting outside (assuming that this is a normal warm spell after which we will experience another, ugly cold snap) is get some plants started inside your house. That way, when the mid march planting craze is here some of your plants will already be a few weeks old, and you will get to eat that homegrown salad that much earlier. Also, it’s just fun. I might be a vegetable gardener by trade, but I am a houseplant enthusiast at heart. To me, this blending of my two usually separate horticultural endeavors is an exciting time. My terrarium of exotic mosses and ferns just has to be scooted over to make way for little cups of soil that will soon sprout Swiss chard, kale, and sweet alyssum.

Many people buy their vegetable starts from gardening centers, but if you want to watch the slow but steady transformation from a green onion seed to tiny green onion plant, to some green onions that you sprinkle over your omelet, then you should just start your own. At least do it once, just so you can watch the tiny spectacle. It’s pretty cool, and if you have kids, it is a great way to make science real for them. Also, if I can stay on my soapbox for a second, it teaches patience. Yeah, that concept of delayed satisfaction, as opposed to our ever increasing need for the instant variety. Patience was an unintended trait I gained when I started gardening.

You want teach your child patience in a fun and fascinating way? Well, start some lettuce seeds in your house with your kids. Once the plants are big enough to eat, you can make a meal together with the food that you grew, and will find that the kids will love that salad in a way you never knew was possible. It is so true. I could talk your ear off about how growing vegetables makes you want to eat them. But that is for a different day.

To get back onto a more practical tract: let’s discuss how to get vegetable plants growing inside your house. I have tinkered with this for years, and while everyone’s situation will be different because every house is different, I can give you some things to think about.

First: think ahead. For the purposes of getting a small head start on the spring season, you want to start the plants inside your house a few week to a month before you plant them outside. So plan a little bit. You can start some things inside this week, and intend to plant them outside around mid march.

Second: find the right environmental conditions inside your house for seed starting. Seeds need warmth (but not too much), moisture (again, not too much), and as much sunlight as you can give them. In my experience, the sunlight is the limiting factoring in my living room greenhouse operation. In any case, setting the seeds on the sunniest windowsill of your house should do the trick. In a nutshell, the sunnier, the better.

Third: find the right vessel to hold your seed starting activities. Even a small terra cotta pot will not work for this activity for a few reasons, mostly that they are too big, and they make it hard to pull the plants out of for transplanting. The best containers arer small plastic ones. Ideally, they size of individual yogurt cups or something like that. All you need to do with the yogurt cups is to poke a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage. As far as what to fill your container with, I would recommend getting potting mix from a gardening store, soil from the ground won’t work well for this activity.

Fourth: moisture control. You don’t want to keep the soil mix that holds your seeds and seedling too wet, just slightly damp to the touch. If you check them every day, you will quickly figure out how much watering is too much or too little.

Fifth: Read your seed packets! Really: most seed companies put good information on each packet that tells you how deep to plant the seed, how warm to keep the soil, and how long to expect the germinating to take. Just follow the planting directions on the seed packet and you should be good.

And finally: Be patient! It is rare when seeds sprout in just a few days, it is normally closer to a week, and often it takes longer than that. When you see the baby plant peeping out of the soil for the first time, you will be so excited that all the waiting pays off.

Now, go home a find somewhere to get started! Or, if you have any gardening questions, visit CCUA’s website at columbiaurbanag.org, where you can contact us with any and all vegetable gardening questions. Or follow us on Facebook, where we are always posting new and interesting gardening content.

On behalf of CCUA, I am Carrie Hargrove, and as always, thanks for listening. Happy gardening!

Listen for the occasional segment Farm Your Yard on Thinking Out Loud, which airs each Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on KBIA.